The night started with the kids being dropped off at Villa Park by their parents.
And it ended with tears before bedtime after heroic failure in the FA Cup which these Aston Villa youngsters should remember for the rest of their lives.
They gave Liverpool’s superstars an almighty scare, the scoreline only tells half the story from a surreal third round tie and there was more than a touch of FA Cup magic even in defeat.
When Villa wonderkid Louie Barry levelled before half time, everyone looked on wondering whether one of the biggest upsets of all time could really be on the cards.
No-one should forget that Liverpool were 66/1 ON to win this cup tie with some bookies because the entire Villa first team was missing because of a Covid outbreak.
This was the best 90 minutes of work experience this bunch of Villa kids could have hoped for as many were too young or had not even taken their driving test so needed a lift to the ground.
But they produced their own chapter in this season’s FA Cup story, doing themselves proud before a second half goal rush eventually broke their resistance.
Then it somehow seemed cruel on Villa’s youngsters but it was only when their legs tired and heads dropped that Liverpool took charge and finally looked like Jurgen Klopp’s all conquering Premier League champions.
Barry said: “I was just happy to score – hope I score many more. I was working very hard. When I celebrated everything came out of me. Relief. It was quite good. I’ve never been so proud of a team – from start to finish we gave it our all.
“Credit to ourselves and the club.”
Klopp said: “I’ve never had this sort of experience before in my life, we did not know who we were playing against, all our preparations for the game went in the bin and it was difficult to prepare.
“It was only in the second half we played like we should have done.”
But the expected whitewash never happened – even if it looked on the cards early on. Liverpool took just four minutes to take the lead through Sadio Mane, just one of a host of their first team superstars.
Curtis Jones had time down the right to pick out a cross, the ball was floated into the middle and there was Mane unmarked to head home past Villa’s rookie 19-year-old keeper Akos Onodi.
You expected an avalanche of goals… but it did not happen.
That was partly down to Liverpool being slack in the first half but also Villa’s heroics as Onodi made a string of super saves.
But then the unthinkable happened. Villa scored.
Callum Rowe, Villa’s oldest player at the grand age of 21, played the ball forward for Barry to chase and he beat Liverpool defender Rhys Williams for pace before slotting past keeper Caoimhin Kelleher.
Barry, 17, is quite a story, starting at West Brom, going to Barcelona and then ending up back at Villa. You can see why. What a talent.
Villa fought bravely until finally Liverpool took charge in the second half as Georginio Wijnaldum restored the visitors’ lead after 60 minutes with a well placed shot from the edge of the box.
The pressure was relieved.
Mane’s looping header then made it 3-1 from Xherdan Shaqiri’s cross before Salah’s low shot completed the rout. But Villa’s kids can go home very proud. After Mum picks them up, of course.
Aston Villa (4-3-3): Onodi 9, Walker 7 (Swinkels, 75), Bridge 8, Revan 7, C Rowe 7 (T Rowe, 75)), Sylla 7, Raikhy 7 (Sohna, 65, 6), Bogarde 7 (Lindley, 66, 6), Kesler 6, Barry 8, Chrisene (7 Young, 61).
Liverpool (4-3-3): Kelleher 6, N. Williams 6, R. Williams 5, Fabinho 6, Milner 7, Henderson 6 (Thiago, 46, 7), Wijnaldum 7, Jones 7 (Firmino, 61, 7), Mane 7 (Origi, 75), Minamino 6 (Shaqiri, 61, 7), Salah 6 (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 75).
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